The tribunal court in Bahrain sentenced eight Shiite political activists to life in prison for their plots to overthrow the government. The men were arrested for their involvement with protests in the island kingdom in February.
Thirteen others were sentenced to between two and fifteen years in prison for their involvement in the alleged coup.
Many of those sentences are Shiite activists. Shiites are the religious majority in Bahrain, which is ruled by a Sunni monarchy. Those sentenced to life in prison include the head of the Shiite opposition group Haq, Hassan Mashaima, and the head of the Shiite Wafa Islamic Movement, Abdulwahab Hussein.
Many of the prisoners are members of Haq and Wafa. The court sentenced Ibrahim Sharif, the Sunni leader of Waed secular group, to five years in prison as well.
According to the court, the detainees have fifteen days to appeal the ruling.
In the face of the verdicts, Shiite demonstrators staged rallies in villages across the archipelago.
Protests began in Bahrain in February. Since then, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has declared a state of national safety, allowing him to quash demonstrations through military force. According to one of Bahrain's interior officials, twenty-four people have been killed in the unrest, but outside estimates are higher.
Hundreds of people have been arrested, and there are around twelve similar cases currently under way. King Hamad has said he will begin negotiations with the opposition, who are accusing the monarchy of unfair housing, education and employment practices, starting July 1.
However, the King does not have a history of progressive action. In 2002, he promised to write a constitution with increased democratic policies, but has not yet done it. The Al Khalifa family has been in power in Bahrain for more than 200 years.